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Michael Petruzzelli

, National Council for Mental Wellbeing

Bipartisan House Bill Aims to Expand Medicare Coverage for Mental Health Services

June 29, 2017 | Medicare | Workforce | Comments
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A new bipartisan House bill would create greater access to mental health care in rural communities across the country. The bill – the Mental Health Access Improvement Act (H.R. 3032) – would allow marriage and family therapists (MFTs) and licensed mental health counselors to directly bill Medicare for their services. Similar legislation has been introduced in previous sessions of Congress and again has the support of the National Council.

The Mental Health Access Improvement Act was written and introduced by Representatives John Katko (R-NY), Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and Mike Thompson (D-CA). Currently, Medicare does not directly pay for services from these types of providers, instead requiring that they must bill under the supervision of a physician. This exclusion limits patients’ access to services in areas with physician shortages and unduly excludes an important class of professionals serving people with mental health and addiction disorders.

With 77 percent of U.S. counties experiencing a severe shortage of behavioral health professionals, over 80 million Americans live in areas that lack a sufficient supply of providers. According to SAMHSA, half of all U.S. counties have no practicing psychiatrists, psychologists, or social workers. Many of these rural and underserved areas do have practicing MFTs and/or mental health counselors, including counselors who have been trained and licensed to provide addiction services.

Allowing previously ineligible providers to directly bill Medicare for their services would immediately alleviate the strain on our nation’s mental health and addiction workforce serving Medicare enrollees. These provisions would not change the Medicare mental health benefit or modify states’ scope of practice laws but would instead allow Medicare enrollees access to medically necessary covered services provided by mental health and addiction professionals who are properly trained and licensed to deliver such services.

The National Council supports this legislation and thanks its sponsors for their leadership on this issue.